Cut That Grocery Bill!

by Sherry Ballou Hanson

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70% of the people come in the door without a plan for tonight's dinner," says Jeff Newell, manager of Hannaford Supermarket in Brunswick, Maine. The result is impulse buying, more convenience items, maybe junk food, too.

Here are a few tips to help you save money on your weekly grocery bill. You have to eat, and your grocery store wants your business. Next time you shop for food, go armed with these suggestions.

Planning - "Plan meals in advance. List your purchases and don't deviate from that list," recommends Newell. If you're shopping for veggies and salad ingredients to accompany the chicken dish you have planned, you don't have to go down the aisle where potato chips and popcorn are shelved and risk being tempted. You can also save money at your local health food store by taking advantage of bulk prices for oatmeal or other whole grain cereals and buy for two weeks at a time.

Avoid Frequent Trips - "Frequent shoppers tend to be those who don't think about what's for dinner," according to Newell. Trips to pick up an item or two never turn out that way. Try to stick to the specific products you need or your milk and bread run to the supermarket can end up costing you $20 as you detour to the bakery and down the candy aisle. If you must make an extra trip to the store, make a list of what you need. Check the flyers for your market and health food store for opportunities to stock up on sale items so you won't run out.

Don't Shop when Hungry - You will pick up unplanned items if you fall into the habit of going to the grocery store before dinner at night. Newell mentions his own liking for crackers and cheese. If you make an impulse buy, chances are you will be into this food while preparing dinner. On your next trip to the store you'll do it again, which adds to the grocery bill for items you don't need. Try not to shop with hungry kids; in fact, leave the kids at home if you can. Unwanted items tend to creep into the cart when your attention is divided between shopping and supervising children.

Store Brands - These products are often as good quality as other leading brands and the savings can be 10% or better, sometimes up to 30%. Supermarket brands are tested in the corporate kitchens and usually offer a money-back guarantee. "Hannaford items are better than or equal to the national brands, but always at a lower price," says Newell. Some of the best savings include Hannaford Brand cereals, breads, pet foods, laundry detergent and health and beauty items. These items are staples in most households, so savings are substantial.

Unit Pricing - Customers should pay attention to the unit pricing tags to compare products in various sizes. The best savings are not necessarily on the largest quantity. Hannaford's best buys are on the most popular sizes, so compare those tags before you pick up the same old thing. The consumer pays for commercials (for national brands) through higher prices, so those store brands are a great savings.

Bulk Items - Health food stores carry many items in bulk, from whole grain cereals to laundry detergent to herbs and teas. Check monthly flyers for special savings. Find out if your market has a budget value department for savings on large quantities for families. Large quantities of popular items like pet foods, laundry detergent, cereals and paper products are often priced lower than other products of comparable value.

Coupons/Rebates - Don't use coupons to purchase items that you would not otherwise buy. Do the math. If there is a store brand, it will always be cheaper. Use coupons only on products you would buy anyway. And look for those opportunities to double or triple the savings. As for rebates, who has the time for these? But if you use the product anyway, and you have the time, a rebate can be a good deal.

Sale Items - Once again, check the house brand at your market. National brands on sale will still cost more than these. If you would purchase the national brand of a specific item anyway, then do pay attention to the sales on this item and stock up.

Limit Convenience Foods - Do you frequent the salad bar for lunch? Do you often buy frozen dinners, or salad in a bag? "Someone had to prepare it to get it to that level of convenience, so you pay for that," says Newell. There is a general rule of thumb for convenience foods: the more table-ready a product is, the higher the price. Individually wrapped slices of cheese and meat will run up your bill; purchase these items at the deli counter more cheaply. Microwavable entrees and packaged side dishes also run up your bill. Limit the number of these food items that you buy. For example, buy the microwavable entree, but make your own salad to accompany this. Add a cooked vegetable or canned fruit or applesauce and create a healthy meal without busting your budget.

Next time you shop, plan your menu and make a list. Watch expenditures on convenience foods; check out store brands for items you purchase frequently. Buy in bulk, and check those unit prices. Follow these tips and your savings will be substantial.

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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